How to do a research project by yourself?

I want to do a research-oriented project to strengthen my portfolio, and to show prospective employers that I’ve been doing something this summer. However, I’m sort of at a loss as to how I might go about it. At my research internship, they had a recruiting agency find and filter the dozens of participants needed for focus groups, interviews, surveys, etc. They had a carefully pruned stimulus library of images, objects, and sounds. And of course they had the money for all of the production costs and compensation for the users. After an experience like that, I don’t know how any solo project I attempt could be anything but laughable in comparison. “hey look at this project, I based it on a facebook survey and a focus group of my acquaintances. Then I went to home depot and asked strangers for feedback on a foam model” Sadly, in undergrad that’s basically what primary research consisted of.

The main hurdle, in my mind, seems to be recruiting relevant people. Instead of broad-scale pattern finding (which requires dozens of participants), should I instead focus on the participant interaction itself? By that I mean I would document one or two activities that highlight the toolkit I developed and what I hope to learn, detailing how I interact with participants. Focusing in on the details rather than the project as a whole is the only way I can imagine it going well. But I am open to suggestions.


It depends on what type of research you are doing, but all methods require tools. You certainly can create all of the tools without actually doing the research. Tool creation will show any prospective employer you are capable of managing a research program.

You will need to make:

  1. Research goal and objectives
  2. Research goal and objectives (I cannot stress enough the importance of the first 2 steps)
  3. Target respondent list (who do you want)
  4. Potential source list for respondents (where do they come from)
  5. Recruiting script (what to you say to get the respondents interested)
  6. Recruiting questions (how do you make sure you get who you want)
  7. Product model (could actually be physical, could be a list of attributes, could be a lot of things but whatever it is, it is always based on steps 1 &2)
  8. Written survey or script (what are you going to ask)

Doing the research and creating conclusions & recommendations would be great, but would not be necessary. It is possible to do all of the tools and research on the cheap. The product model could be virtual and many times the respondents do not need an honorarium. But again, that will depend on steps 1 & 2.